U.S. Intellectual History Blog

Great Books in U.S. Intellectual History

One of the weird things about being an academic historian is that, after the pre-dissertation phase of graduate school—when we do our coursework and study for our comprehensive exams—there is an unexpected lack of time to read history books. This is not to say that we don’t constantly read specific to our ongoing research and teaching projects. We read all of the primary and secondary sources pertaining to our dissertations, books, and articles. We read books that we assign to our students. And we read student writing—oh, do we ever read student writing. But none of this is the same as reading broadly in our field. I’m not nostalgic for graduate school—believe me! But I do long for more time in my life to simply read history books for the sake of it—and for the sake of trying to better understand a field, specifically, my field, our field: U.S. intellectual history.

With that as motivation—and since my manuscript on the culture wars is done and sent off to the press (more work on the book is coming, but for now it’s out of my hands)—I plan to read at least one book per month in U.S. intellectual history, broadly defined, for the next two years. And I plan to blog about these books. My posts will not necessarily be book reviews in the traditional sense, particularly since many of the books I plan to read will be old. Rather, I want to read and write about books that, however subjectively defined, are Great Books in U.S. Intellectual History. Since I will be reading most of these books for the first time, there’s a distinct possibility I will conclude some of them are not, in fact, great. But I want to find books that have the potential to be great and for that I need your help.

I have my own ideas about what makes a great book. I’m interested in books that reshaped the field, books that are beautifully written, books that make us think about a topic in new ways, books that are provocative and challenging, books that nicely represent a particular historiographic moment, books that are, for lack of a more precise word, enjoyable. These are all subjective standards. So, what I would like to do today is open up a thread to you, dear reader: in your opinion, what are some of the Great Books in U.S. Intellectual History? Please leave your suggestions in the comments section, and also please give a rationale for what makes your suggestions Great Books in U.S. Intellectual History.

I have not yet decided which books will form my list of 24 books (one per month, for two years), so please try to convince me that your favorite should be on my list. Although I have a tendency to want to read about the 20th century, and about political culture, I am open to expanding my horizons: so by all means suggest books about 19th-century American intellectual history, or about literature, etc. No limitations, as long as the book can reasonably be considered intellectual history, and as long as you can justify it as a Great Book. Also, I am open to reading books published last year, and books published 100 year ago.

I’m excited to see what you all come up with—so suggest away! Next week, I will post the list of 24 books that I plan to read and blog about here. Many of the books that make the cut will be based on my own particular reading desires. But perhaps some of your suggestions will make my cut. Cheers.

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  1. I’ll recommend one of my favorite books, Drew McCoy’s The Elusive Republic. This will take you into eighteenth century (it does go into the nineteenth as well), and you should have a book on two that covers that period. I’m sure someone will have a good suggestion for a book that’s even earlier.

    • Thanks, Varad. I definitely want to include a few books from early America. Not being a specialist in that era I need to weigh suggestions.

  2. I recommend HIgham, Hofstadter, and Woodward. Just kidding!

    Here’s three:
    John Owen King III, The Iron of Melancholy: Structures of Spiritual Conversion in American from Puritan Conscience to Victorian Neurosis. This book transformed the way I thought about the relationship between texts, extra-textual events and the historical relationship between the two by identifying a persistent set of structural feature in a set of mostly canonical readings from Jonathan Edwards to William James and Max Weber. It’s a little dense, but it’s very sharp and really highlights the centrality of notions of conversion to selfhood in modern thought.

    Wilfred McClay, The Masterless. If you haven’t read it already, I would put it at the top of your list. It’s ambitious, beautifully written, and takes a long range view of conceptions of self and society form the Civil War through the mid-twentieth century. I particularly like the chapter on The Hipster and the Organization Man.

    Mari Jo Buhle, Feminism and Its Discontents: A Century of Struggle with Psychoanalysis. This provides a great analysis of the ways in which feminists argued with, incorporated, rejected, and took up psychoanalysis, and in doing so shows the pervasive extent of psychoanalytic conceptions in American social thought. This is one of the best books on the intellectual history of feminism, and I’m surprised that it doesn’t get more attention from intellectual historians.

    Good luck with your reading project!

    • Thanks, Dan. “The Iron of Melancholy” sounds like it would challenge me in ways I need to be challenged.

      I’m definitely going to put McClay on the list. I read some of “The Masterless” very quickly in graduate school, but I want to spend more time with it.

      I recently read Buhle, on your suggestion after our debates here at the blog about sex and gender in the culture wars. Great book.

  3. I love this idea, Andrew, and wish I could join you in doing this, either with the same books or a list of my own monthly choices. Alas, time. And laziness.

    Anyway, here are some possibilities off the top of my head:

    Stanley Elkins, Slavery: A very problematic book in so many ways, and perhaps nothing more than a relic of its time. But I wonder if that notion of the “Sambo” figure doesn’t haunt the imagination of every historian of slavery and extreme degradation more than we think. So much of the emphasis on agency of the subordinate class (whether slaves, workers, what have you) seems like a massive backlash against Elkins’s thesis that I wonder if it wouldn’t be worthwhile exploring the book as a generative failure.

    Louis Hartz, The Liberal Tradition in America: Despite all the critiques, still to my mind the best book on, if not America, then at least liberalism in America. Particularly good on how liberal hegemony works. In other words, take the notion that liberalism is hegemonic and throw it out the window, but keep the idea of *how* liberalism works as a mode of hegemony.

    D.H. Lawrence, Studies in Classic American Literature. Each essay is a little gem, each sentence contains a phrase that launched a thousand dissertations. Every once in a while I teach it, and my students are blown away.

    Quentin Anderson, The Imperial Self. I came her via Lasch. That should be enough for you!

    Michael Kammen, People of Paradox. I haven’t read this in decades, but I still remember it as one of those books that made me want to be a historian. I never went that route, so take that for what it’s worth, but it’s still a beautiful book that somehow straddles the 1950s and 1970s.

    Robin Einhorn, American Taxation, American Slavery. Not exactly intellectual history, more of a political history of ideas. But really provocative and relevant. Should get a lot more traction among intellectual historians than it does.

    Alisa Solomon, Wonder of Wonders. A cultural history of Fiddler on the Roof. I’ve seen lots of mention, of late, of Denning’s Cultural Front. This books is a more specific intervention than Denning’s, but it opens a similar window. You come away a lot more sympathetic to Jerome Robbins than you were going in, and it’s an absolutely gripping story that takes you from the blacklist and Broadway to Ocean Brownsville — a high school cast of black, Latino/a, and other students of color put on a production of Fiddler on the Roof in Ocean Brownsville in 1968! — to Israel and Poland. And a wonderful read about cultural transmission and adaptation in the Old New Land of Herzl.

    Karen Orren, Belated Feudalism. Again, not exactly an intellectual history, but I’d say one of the best studies there is of legal ideas of personal bondage — not slavery but in the realm of “free labor” — there is.

    Amy Dru Stanley, From Bondage to Contract. Like Einhorn and Orren, an embedded study of political ideas. But brilliant in its weaving of ideas about the marriage contract and the labor contract in post-Civil War America.

    Anything by Michael Rogin.

    David Rabban, Free Speech in Its Forgotten Years. Brilliant study of the 1st Amendment and ideas of freedom of speech. Totally changed how I thought about the historical dimensions of this problem.

    I see that a fair number of these books aren’t strictly speaking intellectual history, but as someone who considers himself a historically oriented political theorist — and who occasionally moonlights as an intellectual historian — I think they’re worth looking at.

    • I’m going to second most of the titles on this list–Amy Dru Stanley’s book is particularly good, and should be on everybody’s list for US intellectual history. Also:
      David Brion Davis, The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Revolution. I haven’t read the sequel yet, but this is just one of those books that both has something profound to say, and does it without sacrificing the care and attention to detail and context the best history represents.

  4. What about F. O. Matthiessen? or Leslie Fiedler? Although seldom read today, I think, I doubt I’ve met anyone who has read them and not come away enlivened, even inspired. Matthiessen, along with Henry Nash Smith, is probably the ideal expression of what the search for the “American Mind” could be, and Fiedler is among the more unique and surprising voices to come out of the mid-century moment.

  5. Sorry, one more suggestion: Rogers Smith’s *Civic Ideals*. One of the things that I find endlessly frustrating among historians, political scientists — in fact, everyone — is a certain cluelessness about what liberalism actually means, has been, entails, etc. It’s such an epithet for everyone, whether they’re pro or con. One of the virtues of Rogers’s book is that it attempts to nail down with some precision what liberalism is. That attempt will probably rankle a lot of historians — though his book did win the Merle Curti Prize, I believe — but at a minimum it does force everyone to be a little more specific and precise about their terms. You might want to read his book in tandem with an essay by Judith Shklar, “The Liberalism of Fear.” Again, not without its problems — I’m a critic of what she does there — but at least fairly self-conscious about the term.

  6. Another recommendation: Daniel Boorstin, The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America. It’s an utterly brilliant book. It identified developments in American culture we’re still dealing with today. It’s also very well written and entertaining. The chapter on the shift from travel to tourism is alone worth the price of admission.

    • I love that book as well–read it with Roland Marchand’s Advertising the American Dream and Frank’s Conquest of Cool.

  7. I’m a complete novice on this topic, but have been meaning for some time to read some William James. Not sure where to start — Varieties of Religious Experience? Pragmatism? Something else? — would love to hear some suggestions.

    • You should also consider looking at the work of George Cotkin, and his big three books: _William James, Public Philosopher_, _Reluctant Modernism_, and _Existential America_. George wrote about the American philosophical trifecta: pragmatism, modernism, and existentialism.

  8. One of my favorite books on the American Revolution is T.H. Breen, The Marketplace of Revolution, which in my view does a great job of tying emerging ideas of nationalism to material realities and political participation in boycotts. He also challenges authors of what others might consider great books in early U.S. intellectual history, namely Gordon Wood and Bernard Bailyn, by arguing the true radicalism of the Revolution was in the way consumer politics brought together ordinary people in disparate regions into a common political culture.

  9. Great post, great comments.

    My personal quest is to find books that can be read in both labor/history of capitalism and intellectual history contexts. My list of some of those, including newer and older discoveries:

    Anson Rabinbach: The Human Motor and In The Shadow of Catastrophe

    Philip Mirowski–both the recent book on the crisis and the earlier work on history of economics/physics

    Roediger and Esch–on origins of managerial imagination in slavery

    Mary Morgan The World in the Model–perhaps the most important text on history of economic thought of recent years

    Vinel The Employee: A Political History (a great work of intellectual history, among other things)

  10. As I have just completed my MA in History and am not yet in a PhD program I am a “greenhorn” on the subject. However, my growing interest in intellectual history and economic thought resulted from reading Jeffrey Sklansky’s book “The Soul’s Economy: American Society and Selfhood in American Thought, 1820-1920” (Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 2002). By the subjective standard, very subjective, that this work influenced what field(s) of history I want to study I recommend reading it if you have not already .

  11. “Great Books in U.S. Intellectual History”

    Is that great books on the United States, or great books written in the United States?

    • For instance: H. Stuart Hughes, Consciousness and Society…does this count?

  12. I’d like to read your take on James Sweet’s _Domingos Alvares, African Healing, and the Intellectual History of the Atlantic World_.

  13. For an environmental perspective I would add Roderick Nash, Wilderness and the American Mind. It is a classic book that set the terms of debate for an entire generation of historians.

  14. I second the recommendation of Daniel Boorstin’s “The Image.” One of my favorite books and therefore probably my favorite book of U.S. intellectual history (I’m assuming this counts although he is not a professional historian) is Louis Menand’s “The Metaphysical Club.” But if we are allowed to go even farther afield, I might recommend a work of legal history (which I sometimes think of as a variant of intellectual history, though it’s not always that): Barbara Welke’s Recasting American Liberty: Gender, Race, Law, and the Railroad Revolution, 1865-1920, which is about how the new dangers of rail travel forced a reconceptualization of ideas about liberty and the role of the state. I wrote about this vis-a-vis the Great Obamacare Debate here:

  15. I’d like to second McCoy’s “The Elusive Republic,” Nash’s “Wilderness and the American Mind,” and also Sweet’s “Domingoes Alvarez.”

    As for my own recs, I have two:

    Natalie Ring’s “The Problem South” ties together the historiographies of the Americna

  16. Sorry I wasn’t done! Here’s the rest of my message:

    Natalie Ring’s “The Problem South” ties together the historiographies of the American South and American Imperialism, while putting questions of race, class, gender, and the state in a transnational context.

    Jonathan Holloway’s “Confronting the Veil” and Daryl Scott’s “Contempt and Pity” both ask penetrating questions about African Americans and their relationship to American intellectuals and the Academy. Choose either one and you can’t lose.

  17. Linebaugh and Rediker, The Many-Headed Hydra (I think it’s intellectual history, at least)

    Rodgers, Atlantic Crossings (ditto)

    Kloppenberg, Uncertain Victory

  18. If you haven’t read it, would definitely put Nikhil Singh’s Black Is a Country on the list. I think it outstrips much of the work on progressivism and liberalism that’s become canonical in intellectual history circles.

    Also, very much second Amy Dru Stanley and Karren Orren as mind-bending treatments of the ideas and ideologies embedded in legal relations. One other on that score — Chris Tomlins’ Law, Labor, and Ideology in the Early American Republic.

    • I definitely agree with these–great books. I wonder, though, if you might say more about the challenge that you see Black Is A Country issuing to current intellectual-historical common sense? (I’m not baiting a trap, I promise… I’m genuinely interested… I recall not having a super-clear sense of quite what I was meant to do with Singh’s book, besides appreciating its literary grace and sophistication… I suppose what I am asking is: what gauntlet does it lay down?)

      • Very briefly, i think Singh offers a way of understanding the trajectory from progressivism to liberalism in a coherent manner, a trajectory that involves changes in the internal structures of, and the relationships between, the following binaries: race/class, individual/group, public/private, nation/globe, capitalism/socialism. i don’t want to get too polemical in this medium, but i tend to think intellectual histories of progressivism and liberalism often beggar several of the above relationships and/or fall back on loose talk about contradictions, complexity, multiplicity, etc. Singh goes for it and gives us an account.

  19. Would Lasch’s “The True and Only Heaven” count? If so, I’d recommend that.


    Daniel Rodgers, “Atlantic Crossings”
    James Kloppenberg, “Uncertain Victory”
    Dorothy Ross, The Origins of American Social Science”

    And our own Nils Gilman’s “Mandarins of the Future”.

  20. I’d certainly second (third?) McCoy and Nash. Henry May’s “The Enlightenment in America” is beautifully written and intellectually complex; it has not been superseded, and indeed seems to be increasingly influential, after almost four decades. D. W. Howe’s “What Hath God Wrought” is a general history by an outstanding intellectual historian.

  21. Sounds like a great series, and it *is* making me nostalgic for graduate school! The first two books to come to mind are Dorothy Ross’s 1972 biography of G. Stanley Hall, which I have been re-reading lately (I also second Ross’s magisterial history of American social science, which is mentioned above), and Bruce Kuklick’s history of the Harvard philosophy department. Something by Richard Pells might also be good, perhaps _Radical Visions & American Dreams_.

  22. If you’re thinking of Great Books in terms of a lineage of ‘classic’ intellectual history texts, I would think of the Progressive historians first — Becker, Beard, Parrington, Turner. Then perhaps the interwar authors like Miller, Gabriel, Curti. Gabriel’s Course of American Democratic Thought (1940) is pretty fascinating. Wood’s The Creation of the American Republic also seems like a definite classic and something we devoted two seminars to in an overview of American intellectual history led by Kloppenberg. Lears’ No Place of Grace, too.

  23. This is neither a book nor a classic since it is only a few months old, but I would add to your list New Left Review’s Sept/Oct 2013 (83) issue. It is a special issue authored by Perry Anderson alone; the theme is “American Foreign Policy and Its Thinkers.” The issue is split into two article: a lengthy first one that assesses the intellectual formation and crystallization of “Grand Strategy” thought in the context of developments in U.S. foreign policy. The second article is shorter and more of a combination of intellectual genealogy and criticism of the literature of “grand strategy.” This article explores the intellectual traditions to which both advocates and critics of this literature belong. Anderson largely covers the WWII and postwar eras in American history, dipping into earlier developments at times but moving fairly quickly back to these periods, at least in the first article. The whole issue comes in around 170 pages and might provide both a useful text on the relations of intellectuals to foreign policy development as well as something to toss around for your Marx in America project.

  24. Well, there is one book that I have found particularly meaningful in my development as an intellectual historian. It’s fairly new; maybe you’ve heard of it: Age of Fracture by Daniel Rodgers.


    I’ll be here all week, folks!

  25. Some different thoughts (given that I concur on selections related to Ross, Kloppenberg, Rodgers):

    1. Martin Jay’s *The Dialectical Imagination*.
    2. Curti’s *Growth in American Thought*.
    3. Bender’s *New York Intellect*.
    4. Jay P. Corrin’s *Catholic Intellectuals and the Challenge of Democracy*
    5. Anything by Hollinger (though 100 percent sure you’ve read Postethnic cover-to-cover—surprised not yet mentioned above).
    6. Bruce Kuklick’s *A History of Philosophy in America* (nice overview, always worth rethinking).

    That’s it for now. – TL

  26. Wow, wow, wow. I was planning to respond to each suggestion individually, but teaching and life got away from me the past 36 hours or so, and now the list has grown and grown. I honestly don’t know how to choose. But I will. Next week I’ll roll out my list of 24, and my guess is most if not all of them will be from all of your wonderful suggestions. I’m not sure if there will be any apparent logic to my suggestions, only an internal (perhaps faulty) logic that I may try to explain. In the meantime, keep the suggestions coming. This thread will be a great archive. Thanks, all.

  27. Not mentioned already: Henry Nash Smith’s Virgin Land; C.Vann Woodward’s Strange Career of Jim Crow; Morton White’s Social Thought in America, the Revolt Against Formalism; Perry Miller’s New England Mind; Edmund S. Morgan’s The Puritan Dilemma, W.J. Cash, the Mind of the South. I suspect 50 years has outmoded these but they were considered important circa 1960.

  28. More seriously, I would say that most of the books I would recommend are probably ones you’ve already read and re-read.

    However, if I were to make a short list of “historical monographs I read in grad school that changed my life” — and that’s no exaggeration — it would look like this:

    David Blight, Race and Reunion
    David Brion Davis, The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Revolution
    Amy Dru Stanley, From Bondage to Contract
    Robert Genter, Late Modernism
    Peter Novick, That Noble Dream
    Daniel Rodgers, Age of Fracture
    Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker, The Many-Headed Hydra

    To Chris (comment #8), who inquired about William James — I’d read On Pragmatism first. But I’d certainly read Varieties too. And essays, essays, essays — Talks to Teachers is a good collection. But all of them are worth a read. I’ve never come away from a James essay disappointed.

    • Gah! And I don’t know how I forgot these: Cassandra Pybus, Epic Journeys of Freedom; Thomas Haskell, Objectivity Is Not Neutrality; and Michael Kazin, A Godly Hero.

      All these books set off epistemic earthquakes that have reshaped my whole inner landscape, changed the course of my thoughts, and so changed the course of my life. There are other books, other texts, that have shaken and shaped me — but this is my short list of transformative book-length reads in U.S. Intellectual history.

  29. John Gaddis, Strategies of Containment
    At least one book from WAWilliams
    John McGreevy, Catholicism and American Freedom
    Mark Noll, America’s God

  30. John Guillory, Cultural Capital: The Problem of Literary Canon Formation.

    Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.

    F.O. Matthiessen, American Renaissance. Art and Expression in the Age of Emerson and Whitman.

    Perry Miller, The New England Mind

    Walt Whitman, Democratic Vistas

    Hart Crane, The Bridge

    William Carlos Williams, Patterson

  31. Since the project began and the book concludes with a reading of Melville’s “The Confidence Man,” I think Jean-Christophe Agnew’s Worlds Apart: The Market and the Theater in Anglo-American Thought, 1550-1750 ought to count. It’s a masterpiece.

  32. Great project, and I’m totally with you on the lack of general reading we get to do in the field. It’s one of the reasons I’m delighted to be on this year’s Best Book in US Intellectual History Award Committee. Nevertheless, while I have some issues with some of these suggested books, I’ll keep that to myself and posit a few that haven’t been mentioned that fill your requirements of being transformative, interesting, AND well-written.

    Henry May’s _The End of American Innocence_ is what made me want to become an intellectual historian. It’s beautifully written, and how many of us get our books mentioned by Vanity Fair? Well, Corey Robin maybe…

    Edward Purcell’s _The Crisis of Democratic Theory_ made me rethink a lot of things about early 20th c. American intellectual and political life. Plus, there’s that whole Catholic thing. A very good book.

    Larry Levine’s _Highbrow/Lowbrow_ is a great read of cultural history that will challenge how you understand culture and power, but surely you’ve read it already?

    Howard Brick–most anything really, but his book on the 1960s, _The Age of Contradiction_ is a good overview of a period that we’re still not quite grasping as intellectual historians, at least in my mind!

    There are obviously a ton more, and I plan to steal the ideas from your list when MY manuscript is off and away, but these pop into my head immediately.

    PS If you want to go Europe, try Matthew Stewart’s _The Courtier and the Heretic: Leibniz, Spinoza, and the Fate of God in the Modern World_.

    • Thanks for these suggestions, Kevin. I’ve read Purcell and have often mentioned it here at the blog as one of the most underrated books in US intellectual history. Of course, Andrew Jewett’s new book apparently covers similar ground, and the roundtable on it in Irvine signaled it is very good, so perhaps I should add it to my list.

  33. Andrew:

    I admit to some dismay at the implicit essentialism in the term “Great Books” (in capitals, no less). To me that raises a sort of old school notion that you’re looking for the works that contain the seed of what intellectual history truly is. Putting that aside because I cannot imagine that this is what you meant, I’m left with two different ideas of the word “great”: books that have exerted a particularly strong influence on the way that U.S. intellectual historians understand their subject and their field (which would, at least in theory, veer in the directly of objectivity), and books that the person who is making the list believes would significantly repay an attentive reading (which would likely vary significantly from person to person).

    Most of the books I would offer in the first category have already been covered. I have a certain traditionalist kind of “cultural literacy” bent, one which I’m not surprised to see shared among the readers of this blog. Additionally, the nature of intellectual history is such that older works of history that weren’t necessary intellectual history when they were new secondary sources, are now primary sources providing evidence of the thinking of their own time. (This is the only reason why I would ever read something like, say, “The Genius of the American Political Tradition.”) And there’s also stuff that greatly influenced the field at one time but really doesn’t any more (like Dunning or Beard) or truly excellent works that have simply been replaced by ones with more contemporary attitudes or better access to archives (let’s say “The Age of Jackson”). I’m sure people would argue about both of those sorts of works, but I’m not inclined to include either of them in *this* particular list. (And then there’s primary sources: “Democracy in America,” the “Federalist Papers,” “The Education of Henry Adams” and lots of books like that sound perfect for the sort of project you are taking on.) With all appropriate qualifications, then, and making no attempt to be definitive or even complete, books that come to my mind include those (in no particular order) by Turner, Bailyn, Wood, Smith, Hofstadter, Hartz, Wilentz (“Rise of American Democracy”), Matthiessen, Kloppenberg, Frederickson (“Inner Civil War”), Foner, Brinkley, Woodward, Chauncey, Menand, Kennedy (“Freedom from Fear”), and Cowie.

    The other category is basically made up of books that have been important to me personally and that I would recommend very strongly. Reputation is less important here, and so the list is much more idiosyncratic, as it is bound by my own interests, tastes and limited to what I’ve actually read. But my own list tends to reflect books that made me think about something in a new way, rather than just told me things that I didn’t know before.

    I would start with the Caro biographies of LBJ. To me, they are the single most important intellectual project that is happening right now. They are more than a history of a person or a time. They raise philosophical questions about the nature of the human being and the purpose political society. I find them just stunning.

    Perlstein’s “Nixonland” blew my fucking doors off. It offer a pretty straightforward argument that nonetheless overturns much of the conventional wisdom on the subject. Moreover, with the vehicle for that argument being Richard Nixon at his most devious and paranoid, I could not put the book down.

    Richard Rorty’s influence seems to be waning since his death, but I personally think that he was basically right about everything important. (As I said, this is the “subjective” part of the list.) “Consequences of Pragmatism” (especially the introduction), in my view, spells out his project most clearly.

    I first read Gary Wills’ “Inventing America” for my oral exams in grad school, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it for weeks. That’s pretty impressive for a book whose primary conclusion is that Jefferson was more influenced by the Scottish common sense school than he was by Lockean liberalism. But as the argument builds, as it were, brick-by-brick, the gnawing conclusion begins to emerge that something you think you know pretty well–the Declaration of Independence–doesn’t mean what you think it does. Given the major intellectual role that document plays in our subsequent national history, I found that somewhat mind-bending. (I know that “Lincoln at Gettysburg” won the Pulitzer Prize and it might be just as good or better. I’ve just never read it. That book is on the list that I have that is parallel to yours.)

    Finally, I just finished “The Unwinding” (Packer) last month. Since it’s so new, I hesitate to put it on this list, but it did change the way that I think about a lot of things. To me, it does a better job of articulating and (implicitly) explaining the late 20th/early 21st century than other historical paradigms (the “big sort,” the rise of conservatism, the “age of fracture” or, yes, even the culture wars) of which I am aware. It’s a riveting read that I found truly and significantly affecting.

    OK, gosh, this is really long. I’ve been writing this for a really long time. I guess this is what I can do now that *my* book is done. Thanks for reading, if you made it this far!


    • By “The Genius of the American Political Tradition” above I meant to refer to Boorstin’s “The Genius of American Politics.” All this talk of Hartz and Hofstadter must have been making me see “traditions” where there were none.

    • Mike: “Great Books” is tongue in cheek. And I thought you knew me! Andrew

  34. I recommend the works of Daniel Walker Howe. Especially What Hath God Wrought and The Political Culture of the American Whigs.

  35. I also wanted to recommend The Peculiar Institution by Kenneth Stampp and Southern Honor by Bertram Wyatt-Brown.

  36. For the post-1945 period, I recommend Grand Expectations and Restless Giant by James Patterson.

    I also wanted to recommend Ronald Radosh’s Prophets on the Right.

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